Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Kairos II: La Révolution Post-historique

Oh no! It's Da Bomb!
         Arnold Gehlen, in ¨The Roll of Living Standards in Today´s Society¨ (1952) and Hendrik de Man (Paul´s uncle), in Vermassung und Kulturverfall (1952), present another “end of history” scenario emphasizing das Posthistoire [1], the-post historical period; that period into which we entered after the Second World War (and of modernity, see exhibits: a) the unprecedented scale of the war, b) Auschwitz, and c) the Bomb), and made possible by the post-war economic and technological acceleration, which ensured that all could enjoy a high standard of living as compared to before (this parallels Kojève´s footnoted suggestion that the classless society was in fact American consumer capitalist society). 
Hiroshima, Post-Bomb
The mathematician A. A. Cournot had envisioned, as it was about a century before the phrase post-histoire was coined; then, Cournot wanted to designate the position that emerges when any human invention or innovation has been so perfected that every further morphological change appears closed off...the conclusion that our culture has filled its “archetypal” sense and is thus has entered a phase of meaninglessness; the alternative was then, viewed biologically, death or mutation...Post-histoire is not concerned with the lethargy of a culture in which its vital powers have been extinguished, rather with the entry to a phase of world-events occurring overall outside of the framework of History because they lack any noticeable historical connection between causes and effects. [2]

       At this point, our capacity for prognostication fails, as the logic of necessity (causes and effects) is disestablished. The logic of history, which is defined by a form of causality dependent upon a concept of temporality that has been decisively refuted, ¨ a phase of world-events occurring overall outside of the framework of History.” Essentially, this amounts to claiming that “History with a capital H” (Perec) came to an end (epic history) without people having thereby ceased to live, act and make history. Micro-history goes on after the end, albeit only for those whose eyes can see it. Viewed from the standpoint of history, the post-historic epoch would indeed appear as it did in Kojève's footnote or through the eyes of an unreformed Fukuyama. For, an “historical situation coming to pass in which all possibilities of action are held in reserve ...abrogating all their further hopes and plans beyond limits already attained. Revolutionary action would found classless society, beyond which further historical action wouldn't arise.”[3]
The Wall Falls
       For my part, I view this as an epochal transition by which History, i.e. the epic element of history, only pauses, as it were, being a hiatus, or interval, in an ausnehmezustand that is often also political, and since the micro-histories and singular agents have already been emancipated from a great degree of their material constraints, revolutionary action can produce a recommencement – or defer, or at least shape the form of the recrystallizing logic of a new history. what is significant is that this maps onto messianic time perfectly, with kairos standing as the moment of entry into messianic time, rather than being conflated with it. And as such, for a time, the experience of time and the possible forms of history and politics would be altered, for sovereignty is likewise suspended, attenuated, devolved or deferred. This was certainly the case in both post-war Germanies, regaining sovereignty piecemeal over a 45 year period. [4]

In the idea of classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time... Once the classless society had been defined as an infinite task, the empty and homogeneous time was transformed into an anteroom, so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary situation... (Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently miscarried, ultimately achieved interruption)... Marx says that revolutions are the locomotive of world history... Perhaps revolutions are an attempt... to activate the emergency break. (XVIIa)[5]

    Kairos is rather the opening of post-histoire, and the mode of temporality proper to the condition of History having been held in abeyance. It is a rupture, inaugurating a new history as a time filled with a plenitude of moments, bearing the emancipatory possibility of defying the constraints and false continuity of the future and past and interrupting history: Revolutionary rupture. [6] Kairos is active in our production of reality as our freedom for the future and in transforming the past in terms its relationship of meaning with the present kairos. True revolution is in fact messianic, for blueprinting utopia or having a ¨plan¨ is impossible from this side of the event – as rational prognosis is interrupted by a change, as it were, in historical rationality. The messianic need not be deferred, but neither can its advent be accelerated: no deferral. Those who wait, wait in vain, because they are only waiting for themselves (F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #274 – see below). Those who have recognized that the pleroma (fullness of time) is here and now, also recognize that it is bound up inextricably with our desires, such that any moment can be the kairos of the revolution that would mark the start of an interregnum of messianic time, the hiatus that exists before a new history can be constructed or installed. In such moments there is brought about “a real ausnehmezustande [7] liberating the present from this servitude to the future and constraint of the past in view of making experience in the strong erfahrung sense possible again. A “pure time of suspended history marking an epoch [called] a revolutionary regime”(Sade). No conception of the temporality of revolution could be at once as opposed and as similar to Robespierre's exhortations to accelerate the Revolution. Rather than the time of a new, ever-accelerating history inaugurated by the Revolution, “it is the time of the between-times where... there reigns the silence of the absence of laws, an interval that corresponds precisely to the suspension of speech when everything ceases, everything is arrested... because there is no more interdiction. Moment of excess, of dissolution and of energy.. Always pending, this instant of silent frenzy is also the instant at which man, by a cessation wherein he affirms himself, attains his true sovereignty.” [8] To await, to say that action is to bring about, is to still subordinate oneself to the future and to never even see that opening onto a different future, a different form of history. It henceforth becomes the task of the revolutionary to maintain that lapsus, a time simultaneously post­-historical and pre-historical, in which every moment is unique, irreplaceable and contemporary (if virtually, or by means of remembrance) with every other – in which every being is likewise irreplaceable in its singularity and yet immanent to every other. 
When one commentator says, The Messiah is perhaps I, he is not exalting himself. Anyone might be the Messiah – must be he, is not he. For it would be wrong to speak of the Messiah in Hegelian language – “the absolute intimacy of absolute exteriority.” – all the more so because the coming of the Messiah does not yet signify the end of history, the suppression of time. It announces a time more future.. than any prophesy could ever foretell. [9]

      Everyone is messianic when aware that kairic moments are to be found everywhere in Erfahrung. by the historian who “brushes history against the grain.” When the “principle of alienation constituting man... imprisoning him in a contentment with his own reality... leading him to... impose it as a conquering affirmation” is overturned, when one has extirpated all that “roots men in a time, in a history... in a language,” [10] it is beyond all possibility for me to deny that, as Bataille wrote in Devant un Ciel Vide (1946), 

These moments are relatively banal: just a little ardor and abandon is sufficient (on the other hand, just as little weakness turns us away, and the next instant expels us from the moment;. Laughter to the point of tears, fucking and crying, obviously nothing is more common... ecstasy itself is right under our noses. [11] 

Unexpectedly, the moment “opens itself up while denying that which limits separate beings, the instant alone is the sovereign being…” [12] No great event or historical/epochal/cosmic crisis is really needed in order to overcome such a blinding alienation from life in the present, from the present itself, from others, for “ Every just act (are there any?) makes of its day the last day or – as Kafka said – the very last: a day no longer situated in the ordinary succession of days but one that makes of the most commonplace ordinary, the extraordinary.” [13] In consideration of the fundamentally immanent quality of kairos, Blanchot was absolutely correct in asserting that demonstrations “express the right of all to be free in the streets, freely to be a passerby and to make something happen in the streets.” [14] The significance of May '68 lies in the fact that “the rupture... is decisive. Between the liberal capitalist world, our world, and the present of the communist exigency, there is only the dash of a disaster, an astral change.” [15]
       Unbinding revolutionary possibilities is a matter of relinquishing that which resists this anachrony – that is, according to Blanchot, “everything that through values and through feelings roots men in a time, in a history, and in a language is the principle of alienation constituting man as privileged in his particularity, imprisoning him in a contentment with his own reality, and leading him to propose it as an example or to impose it as a conquering affirmation.” [16] In this Blanchot takes over and develops an insight given to us by Bataille in 1945, who wrote, “actually, our native country is what belongs to the past in us. It's on this and this alone that Hitlerism erects its rigid value system, adding no new value.” [17] The experience of kairic heterogeneity and the rupture interrupting history thereby inaugurated removes that which “...impedes access to the present is precisely the mass of what for some reason (its traumatic character, its excessive nearness) we have not managed to live... [and constitutes our contemporaneity, in the sense that] to be contemporary means in this sense to return to a present where we have never been.” [18]
Maurice Blanchot, Circa 1968

[1] Which, as Lutz Niethammer has noted in Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End? “does not exist in French” but is a German coinage inspired by the mathematician A.A. Cournot, in his reflections on the dynamics of history in the mid-19th century.
[2] Hendrick de Man, Vermassung und Kulturverfall (München: Lehnen, 1951), 135f, quoted in Arnold Gehlen, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 7: Einblicke, “Anmerkung des Herausgebers,” 468-9. Gehlen: “Hendrik de Man has recently expressed the interesting thought that we have entered into an epoch that no longer belongs to History, an age of “post-histoire” as Cournot called it. If this should be the case, naturally one can say nothing more about the future. Is it not the case then that one can still always find in the past keys to the future and must then already derive the reaction of humanity to these increases in consumption, impoverishment of existence and loss of personality, from the obligations of our actual lifestyles. Perhaps then one can once again see ascetic elites that exclude themselves from the general race toward “a good life,” and would in so doing deny the common conditions that all present social and political contradictions still have, and which and are so noisily fought over.”
[3] Bataille, On Nietzsche, 42.
[4] The position of post-history inaugurated by kairos (kairology rather than chronology) stands diametrically opposed to the earliest concept of post-history, R. Seidenberg's “final posthistoric phase, more or less symmetrical with the prehistoric phase. History itself is thus marked off as a transitional interregnum... a relatively fixed state of stability and permanence.” Roderick Seidenberg, Posthistoric Man (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1950), 56.
[5] Benjamin, “Paralipomena to 'On The Concept of History,'” Selected Writings, Vol 4, 401-11. 401-2.
[6] Post-historical period = hiatus in history (epic/ideological), of indeterminate duration but unable to endure eternally. That desire which in kairos renounces the temptation to vainly prolong it is stronger than the desire to continue existing and desiring, the supersession of conatus.
[7] Benjamin,“On the Concept of History,” 392.
[8] Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, Trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 226.
[9] Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 142.
[10] Blanchot, Political Writings, 97.
[11] Georges Bataille, “Devant un ciel vide,” Fontaine, Nos. 48-9, Fevrier 1946, 207-212. 212. My translation.
[12] Bataille, “The Sovereign,” 187.
[13] Blanchot, The Writing of The Disaster, 143.
[14] Blanchot, Political Writings, 91.
[15] Blanchot, Political Writings, 93.
[16] Blanchot, “[Communism without heirs],” Political Writings 1953-1993, 92.
[17] Bataille, On Nietzsche, 171-2.
[18] Giorgio Agamben, Nudities, Trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Sta[145ord: Stanford University Press, 2011), 18.

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